When a noisy shudder is a good noise in a car

2017-04-27 06:01
PHOTO: datsunPilloried for not having airbags, the Datsun Go is nevertheless safer than any car people over 40 grew up in, thanks to active and passive safety features built into the structure of the car

PHOTO: datsunPilloried for not having airbags, the Datsun Go is nevertheless safer than any car people over 40 grew up in, thanks to active and passive safety features built into the structure of the car

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THE appearance of the Datsun Go, the Go+ and most recently the Renault Kwid on the South African market has stirred up a certain amount of controversy.

While these budget cars have levels of digital connectivity not usually encountered in the four-wheels-and-an-engine brigade, they have been heavily criticised in some quarters for their rather rudimentary nod to safety. And there is something ironical about the fact that cars that would not be allowed anywhere near a European road are freely available to the least experienced drivers on some of the world’s most dangerous roads.

The purpose of this article, however, is not to consider whether cars like my 1962 Harry Potteresque Ford Anglia should or should not be allowed on our roads, but to give a brief overview of the various safety features that might or might not be found in your dashing new set of wheels.

There are basically two major categories of safety features. The first consist of design features and add-ons to improve your chances of emerging from an accident not only alive but with no or at least fewer and less severe injuries.

The second category consists of those, mainly electronic, features designed to prevent your having an accident in the first place. Some of the first category are built into the car, such as crumple zones to absorb the energy generated by an accident and reinforced passenger cells that maintain their structural integrity in all but the most severe accidents.

The interiors of modern cars also reflect the concern with safety.

You won’t for instance find a metal horn ring like the one in my brother’s 1960s Opel Kadett, which broke during a minor argument with a kerb and caused quite severe damage to his wrist. More obvious to the occupants than these designed-in features are fitments like seat belts — the modern variety first appeared on Volvo cars in the late 1960s and, more controversially, air bags.

Electronic safety features

More interesting, however, are the clever devices designed to prevent you from having an accident in the first place.

These are usually signalled by an alphabet soup of acronyms and most of them work on the braking system.

In this article, I will discuss three of the most common:

Anti-lock braking system (ABS): Locked-up wheels during emergency braking can be almost as bad as having no brakes at all, as they lead to loss of control over the vehicle. The first ABS system was developed by Bosch and first appeared on the 1978 Mercedes S-Class. The system involves an individual hydraulic feed to each wheel as well as wheel sensors.

When the vehicle’s ECU picks up that one of the wheels is slowing down in relation to the other wheels — that is it is about to lock up — it releases the brake pressure to this wheel (or wheels) and then rapidly reapplies it — this is the same as feathering the brake, a skill taught in advanced driving courses.

The driver experiences the activation of ABS as a noisy shuddering. With the advances in electronics, ABS has become considerably cheaper and more effective than it used to be and the argument is gaining strength that it should be fitted as standard to all vehicles on South African roads.

Electronic brake-force distribution (EBD): This is basically a subsystem of ABS. It allows brake-force to be varied among the four wheels. For instance, most cars have a braking bias towards the front wheels, but in certain situations it may be advantageous to switch this bias to the back wheels. EBD does this.

Electronic stability control (ESC): This is the generic name for a system that goes by several other acronyms, depending on the manufacturer. It can be seen as a further refinement of the ABS system and basically compares the direction in which the driver wishes to go according to the steering wheel to the direction in which the car is actually travelling.

The system then uses the braking of individual wheels to bully the vehicle into following the driver’s instructions. While we await the advance of self-driving cars, with some predicting sales in three years, these systems are what help to keep safe the nut that holds the wheel.

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